Just before Lily entered my life, I wasn’t sure I wanted another dog. We had recently lost our previous pet to illness and it took a lot out of me. I was drained emotionally. Something about bringing another dog into our home so soon after a loss seemed wrong, too. And disloyal. I felt as if we were betraying our beloved dog’s memory and it just hurt too much.
But my husband was insistent. A Sunday afternoon drive in the country was in order. He knew of a place that had some golden retriever puppies for sale and he was determined to change my mind. I grabbed some old towels as an afterthought, but forgot the small dog crate in the basement. Then we hit the road.
I should say that our last dog was a golden retriever, too, and our family loves the breed. It doesn’t mean we aren’t willing to adopt a rescue or look at other breeds. We just know the golden well. It is an obvious choice for us at this point in our lives.
Lily was born on a farm. When my husband and I drove up the long drive to the farmhouse, I knew we were going home with a puppy. I had no more doubts. All it took was to see a large litter of pups lounging and playing under a huge tree to change my mind. And she stood out from the rest. All were friendly and exuberant, but Lily was fearless and curious, too. We knew she was the one.
On the drive home, she sat on my lap on top of the towels I’d brought. I realize this isn’t the smartest way to travel with a pet (she should have been secured in the dog crate that we forgot), but my husband was driving and I held her closely. I’m glad I remembered the towels, however. She piddled on me a couple of times during her first car ride. The towels saved my jeans and the car seat.
The first year with Lily was an adventure. It had been a long time since a puppy lived with our family and she kept me moving. Puppy classes were important to us for the conditioning, so we enrolled her (and us) to refresh us on the beginning basics. She was easy to train but a terror on a leash. Housebreaking? No problem. I think she had one accident in the house, otherwise, she knew right away to go outdoors. But walking with her on a leash? I liken it to walking the Tasmanian Devil, that Looney Toons character. Pulling, jerking, stopping, dragging. She was all over the place. It made no sense to her. Being outdoors meant adventure and freedom to that farm dog. And she didn’t want it any other way. Commands didn’t faze her when on a leash, and she knows and obeys commands very well, otherwise. Even the instructor was at a loss, murmuring, “I’ve never seen such a thing.” I knew then walking with her might never be a pleasant thing.
Home life was an experience, too. Lily has earned many nicknames over the years, but one that perfectly describes her personality is “Stealth”. Or “Cato” (Kato Fong from the Pink Panther movies), as my husband affectionately calls her. The manservant and martial arts expert hired to keep Inspector Clouseau on his toes had nothing on our hound. She’s the master stalker and while her toys are often the target, we are always her prey. The little girl is always lurking, ready to pounce. Think she’s sleeping in the other room? Just turn around and she’s at your feet staring you down, standing very still, with narrowed eyes and that stalking face. We rarely hear her coming, that’s how quiet she is. What she chooses to do next depends on her mood, but it’s always playfulness. Another personality trait.
The hound feigns hearing loss when it’s to her advantage. She absolutely hates being brushed, which usually means I have to wrestle with her to do a little grooming. So if she’s resting in another room and hears the word “brush”, then she remains very still, pretending to sleep. But if a piece of food hits the kitchen floor, Stealth is suddenly there from two rooms away in search of an unexpected treat. The word “groomer” is in her unspoken vocabulary. She attempts to hide when hearing it. She’d be the ragamuffin of goldens if we allowed it and just as happy. But anyone who has a golden knows the importance of brushing because of the breed’s tendency to shed. A lot. So she’s out of luck with that one. And I continue to wrestle.
Lily’s “business”…where to start? I think she views it as a necessary inconvenience. She would much rather explore, chase tennis balls, sniff the air, look at the birds, bark and roll in the grass or snow. So she waits until she can’t put it off any longer; until she’s checked out every single shrub and chased every leaf that’s blown in her path. Then it’s as if she’s thinking, “Okay, gotta take care of this.” I’m sure she would sigh if she could. And most dogs chase their tails. I’m not sure why, but I know what’s about to happen when Lily chases her own. Because she pushes the “business taking” to the limit, her tail chasing is an indication. It’s usually a few chases and she stops, ears up and alert, eyes wide and staring at us, as if to say, “THIS HAS TO HAPPEN NOW!” We get the message and out she goes. It’s funny how our dogs communicate with us.
I do believe we have the only dog that suffers “business attacks” as a result of car rides. That old story comes to mind of getting a cranky baby to sleep by taking it for a ride around the block. You have a dog that needs to do its business? Take it on a car ride. That’s our hound. And she’s turned into a difficult traveling companion because of the incessant stopping we have to make for her. We usually visit family in Iowa on Thanksgiving and take Lily with us. We’ve stopped more for our dog along I-88 over the years than we’ve ever stopped for ourselves.
As with all dogs, her barks have meaning. I’ve learned what’s going on with all I hear. Ceaseless barking, while looking out the window, usually means she sees something…squirrel, rabbit, neighbor. Barks will end once target is out of sight, but I’ve had to shoo off a squirrel or two that dared the dog through the window, driving Lily (and me) crazy. Announcement barks are reserved for the doorbell ringing, the UPS delivery truck, the mail carrier and any variety of noisy vehicles (trash and recycling trucks, snow plows, etc). The one lone “RUFF” bark means she’s saying to one of us, “Now, wait a minute. Look at me." Then there’s the single “Whoop”. This happens when she’s lounging in a semi-sleep state, snoring happily. A loud noise induces one of these when it brings her back to consciousness. I’ll just say I’ve been startled senseless when she does it.
There’s so much I could share about this wonderful creature. She loves the camera, probably because I’ve trained her by taking endless photos from the moment we brought her home. She’s confident she can catch anything that wanders in her yard (squirrels, birds, rabbits, ducks) even though she never has. Her beautiful instincts came into play last spring when she bugged a poor nesting duck under some shrubs by our house. Tracking, flushing and chasing continued every time Lily went outside until we had to build a temporary fence around the shrubs so she’d leave the duck alone. The two coexisted until it was time for the new mama duck and her babies to vacate.
She loves snow, still thinks she can sit on my lap (even though she weighs about eighty pounds), sometimes uses her toys as pacifiers and has an internal clock for when it’s time to eat. I’ve never forgotten to feed Lily because she won’t let me forget. She has me trained well.
Age is catching up to our sweet girl, as it does with all of us. She’s much whiter in the face but just as beautiful. Her agility isn’t what it used to be and due to a leg injury she suffered a few years ago because she was so physically active, her retrieving days are over. She plays with tennis balls now, instead of chasing them. I’m her retriever as she’s happy to hide her favorite toy for me to find. But most importantly, she makes me happy. She’s loving and nurturing; a companion to have around and she makes me laugh everyday.
As for those walks we never thought would happen as a puppy…I’m happy to say she did learn how to walk on a leash. She does have an aversion for small dogs, however, as a couple of times she was bitten (once on her ear and once on her belly) as these dogs became aggressive with her while we walked. Why is it that most folks think “small” can’t hurt “large”? Now if some pet owners could learn dog etiquette, those walks with my sweet hound would be much nicer (but that might be another blog post).